Yesterday I introduce the fact that God established our Governments and I asked which government is the best kind. But I also said that it didn’t really what form of government you have, it is still established by God. Now, that government can change. God doesn’t ordain any one form of government to be continued forever. If the people grow toward understanding of truth, and morality prevails in a community, the form of government may well take on the form of a Republic. Where truth disappears, government seems to become more autocratic. But, in any case, the point Paul is making is that whatever form of government you find, God is behind it. Yes, this messes with my mind, too. Does this mean that the evil governance of Am men, Marx. Lennon, Pat, Hitler, on and on it goes, was God ordained and sanctioned? I do not think that is what Paul was saying . . . but I think it is clear that we should never think of any state or any government as something that in itself is opposed to God. That includes Communism as much as any other form of government. In my mind, that is the clear statement of this passage. I think we have to begin to clear our thinking along that line.
This truth is not confined to just the New Testament. You find it in the Old Testament as well. In the book of Daniel, Daniel stood before one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen, one of the most autocratic of kings, and said to him, “God changes times and seasons, God removes kings, and he sets up kings,” (Daniel 2:21 RSV). There it is made clear that God definitely has a hand in whatever is happening in the earth at any particular time. Sometimes we are tempted, or even taught, to think of God as being remote from our political affairs, that he is off in heaven somewhere playing chess or something, and turning a rather morbid eye on us human beings struggling along with our political problems down here. On the contrary, Scripture never takes that point of view. He is not on some remote Mount Olympus; he is right here among us, right in the “thick” of things, involved in the pattern of governments; and he raises up kings and puts down others, raises up rulers and changes the form of government. Paul is clearly explaining this in Romans 13.
I think we Americans are slowly learning that not everybody in the world can handle democracy. There was a time when we naively believed that democracy was the best (and only enlightened) form of government, and all we had to do was go around the world and set up democracies and people would begin to function the way they were supposed to, that democracy would solve all their problems.
Now, after many painful experiences, I think we are learning that is not the case. We are learning that there are times and places where democracy just won’t work. It can’t work; people aren’t ready for it. They can’t handle that kind of liberty, that kind of responsibility. Therefore, God doesn’t give it to them. The government they have is better suited for their purposes than the one we have. We are slowly catching on to that.
When Paul wrote this letter to these Christians, they were living in the capital city of the empire, Rome itself. Rome by this time had already passed through several forms of government. It had been a monarchy, a republic, a principate, and now it was an empire. Nero had just begun his reign as the fifth emperor of Rome when Paul wrote this letter. What Paul said to those Christians is that whatever form of government may be in control, they are to remember that God is behind it.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome